I've always believed that the number zero is extremely defining! In the world of sports, as in real estate, it's all about “location, location and location!" A zero in the right-hand column of the won-loss standings is a very good thing, while one in the left-hand column, is not so good!
As college football enters its stretch run, anyone remotely associated with the game is well aware that USC, Texas and Alabama (listed in order of the team's BCS rankings), remain the nation's lone unbeaten teams. However, there a few other teams with a zero in that right-hand column, when it comes to conference standings.
West Virginia of the Big East, easily took care of Cincinnati on Wednesday night, moving to 5-0 in league play. The Mountaineers still have games remaining on November 24 versus Pittsburgh (in Morgantown) and on December 3 at South Florida. The Mountaineers had the Big East title in their grasp last year but lost at home to Boston College 36-17 and at Pittsburgh (16-13), to finish the year. This year's team shows no signs of imploding but one never knows
TCU has already clinched the MWC title, in its first year in the league. The Horned Frogs easily dispatched of Colorado State last Saturday (33-6), clinching the school's first outright conference title since winning the SWC crown in 1958. At 7-0 in the MWC, the Horned Frogs (29-point favorites!) need only beat UNLV in Fort Worth on Saturday, to finish at 10-1 overall and 8-0 in league play. Ironically, the team's only loss in 2005 came against an old SWC rival, SMU. Just one week after opening the season by winning 17-10 in Norman versus the Sooners (as almost four-TD underdogs), TCU lost 21-10 at SMU, a team that is just 3-6 on the year.
At least one of college football's seven remaining conference unbeatens HAS to lose this weekend. Boise State and Fresno State of the WAC (both 5-0), meet Thursday night on ESPN. Boise State entered the WAC in 2001 and in that very first year, ended Fresno's 17-game home winning streak with a 35-30 victory as a 16-point underdog. After losing at La Tech later that year, Boise began a conference winning streak that's reached 31 games! During that run, the Broncos are an impressive 21-10 ATS.
Despite the fact that Boise owns that long conference winning streak and have beaten Fresno in all four meetings since joining the conference (winning by an average score of 41-21 and goings 4-0 ATS), the Bulldogs are solid favorites (more than a TD) in Thursday's game. Fresno State is surely no slouch, as the Bulldogs are 38-5 SU at home since 1998 and enter their showdown with the Broncos at 7-1 (only loss at 8-1 Oregon, 37-34) and ranked No. 20 in the AP (current BCS ranking is 22).
The winner of Thursday's showdown will likely win-out the rest of the way in conference-play but it's no ‘lock. ’ Boise gets an easy game at home versus Idaho but must play at La Tech (7-1 SU at home since 2004). As for Fresno, after traveling to USC on December 19 for a non-conference game, the Bulldogs must go to Reno, where Nevada has gone 9-2 SU and ATS in its last 11 home games. Fresno finishes the season with a game against La Tech at home.
Getting back to the nation's top-three teams, USC faces the one school that's given them the most trouble the last few years. USC takes a 31-game winning streak into its game at Cal this Saturday, as well as a 14-game road winning streak and a 21-game Pac-10 winning streak. Cal was the last team to beat USC, 34-31 in triple-OT back in 2003. Cal almost beat the Trojans last year in Los Angeles losing 23-17 and in 2003, losing 30-28. Adding some more drama to the mix, a USC win will tie Cal's Pac-10 record winning streak of 22 straight, set from 1947-50. USC is an 18 1/2-point favorite and will close the year with home games against Fresno State and UCLA (Trojans have won 25 straight in the Coliseum).
Texas, the nation's No. 2 team, goes for its 17th straight win this Saturday in Austin against Kansas. While both Texas and USC have won games by similar margins, Texas outscores its opponents 48.3-14.3 with USC outscoring its opponents by an average of 49.9-20.6, the Longhorns are 8-1 ATS while the Trojans are just 4-5! Texas is a 33-point favorite over Kansas and finishes its regular season with a visit to College Station, where the Longhorns face the disappointing Aggies. The likely opponent for Texas in the Big-12 title games is Colorado, a team the Longhorns beat in Austin 42-17, back on October 15.
While few think either USC or Texas will stumble down the stretch, the nation's No. 3 team, Alabama (but just 3-6 ATS), finds itself a home ‘dog’ (plus-3) this Saturday to No. 5 LSU. Since losing WR Tyrone Protho, the Tide have scored just ONE TD in their last three SEC games. However, Alabama owns the nation's No.1-ranked scoring defense (8.2 PPG) and shouldn't be counted out of any game. If Alabama escapes against LSU, the Tide play Auburn in the “Iron Bowl" on December 19 in Auburn. Alabama's likely SEC title game opponent (if the team makes it that far) is either Georgia or Florida.
The SEC saw Auburn go 12-0 last year but get left out of the BCS title game and it seems likely that Alabama could finish 12-0 in 2005 and also get left out. USC increased its lead over Texas in the latest BCS standings and Texas’ lead over Alabama is SUBSTANTIAL! BCS history says that the two teams ranked first and second in the initial BCS poll of the season (this year it was USC and Texas), have NEVER gone on to meet in that year's BCS title game. However, USC and Texas have already made BCS history in 2005, as the same two teams have never before been either one or two in each of a season's first-four BCS standings. Maybe USC and Texas are destined to meet in Pasadena?
I can't close without listing the winless teams, the ones with the zero in the wrong location! Temple is 0-10 (4-6 ATS) in 2005 but gets the week off before closing its season December 19 at Navy. New Mexico State is 0-9 (2-7 ATS) and is home to Nevada, where the Aggies are 9 1/2-point underdogs. Buffalo, also 0-9 (5-4 ATS!) is at Kent State and the Bulls may actually have a chance. The not-so Golden Flashes are just 1-8 themselves in 2005 but are favored by about a TD. Note: Buffalo also owns the nation's longest current road losing streak with 22 straight losses.
Rice (0-8 SU and 1-7 ATS) in 2005 and owners of the nation's longest current losing streak at 14, plays its Homecoming game this week against 2-6 Tulane. The Owls are actually a ONE-POINT favorite! Could it be? By the way, including Buffalo, New Mexico State and Rice (Temple is playing this year as in Independent), there are still 13 schools which are still winless in conference play entering this weekend's action.
Larry Ness is a documented member of the Professional Handicappers League. Read all of his articles at http://www.procappers.com/Larry_Ness.htm